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On January 22, the 36th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, President Obama issued a statement: "While [abortion] is a sensitive and often divisive issue, no matter what our views, we are united in our determination to prevent unintended pregnancies, reduce the need for abortion, and support women and families in the choices they make."

The next evening, after the news people had put away their cameras and notebooks for the day, the President quietly rescinded the Mexico City Policy. This was an executive order first implemented by Ronald Reagan that barred federal funds from groups that perform or promote abortions overseas.

Unlike many Democratic lawmakers or abortion supporters, the President has for some time shown signs that he isn't explicitly going to demonize pro-lifers or the "Religious Right." That is good news.

The bad news is that Obama declares a false unity. He claims that all Americans share in his goal "to prevent unintended pregnancies, reduce the need for abortion, and support women and families in the choices they make."

Savvy Rhetoric

Obama is suggesting that abortion is a human need, which can be reduced but never eliminated. He is suggesting that we all will "support" (meaning affirm the decisions of) women and families, even if they abort a child. He assumes that we all can unite, as he said in his Roe anniversary comment, "to ensure that our daughters have the same rights and opportunities as our sons," suggesting that abortion is not just a need but also a right.

It's savvy rhetoric precisely because it is so subtle. It quietly isolates pro-life advocates (who now appear extremist) while appealing to those who are tired of the abortion debate (with calls to reduce abortion). Even the fiercest abortion supporters ...

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March 2009

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